YouGov’s weekly poll in the Sunday Times this week has the first questions asked about Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor – asked if his appointment will make Labour stronger or weaker, 24% of people think it will strengthen Labour, 18% think it will weaken them (though to some extent, this is respondents believing what they want to believe – Labour supporters think strongly that it will make Labour stronger, Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters are more likely to think it will weaken them).

More relevant is probably a question asking who will make the better Chancellor of the Exchequer. When we asked it a week ago George Osborne was favoured over Alan Johnson by 25% to 21%. In a choice between Osborne or Balls they are level on 27% a piece, so Balls does get a slightly better rating than Johnson.

Two caveats to this – firstly it doesn’t necessarily translate into any vote of confidence in Balls, it could easily just be people aren’t that enthralled by George Osborne. In my earlier post I noted that people were more likely to think Osborne was a liability to the party than senior Tory frontbenchers. Today YouGov asked how much confidence people had in various figures to make the right economic decisions for the country and people had significantly less confidence in Osborne than in Cameron (31% had confidence in Osborne, 43% in Cameron. 30% had confidence in Ed Miliband to make the right decisions).

The other caveat is, of course, the one I mentioned on Friday – Balls’s upside was going to his vigour and command of the brief that will instill confidence, his possible downsides in terms of party image and positioning would take longer to emerge.

Looking at the rest of the poll, all three leaders have slight drops in their approval ratings. Also note the questions on the economy – 78% think the current state of the economy is bad, one of the worst since the general election. The feel good factor (those thinking the economy will get better over the next 12 months minus those who think it will get worse) is minus 55, the second worse it’s been since the election. As we saw during the last Parliament, economic optimism does have a significant impact upon voting intention, that won’t have been the case so much since the election because the economic state will have been seen as something the government inherited, but over time the relationship will have started to build up again.

The only economic question with even a smidgin of good news was the proportion of people thinking the country will go back into recession was marginally lower on 52%, compared to 55% in September. Everywhere else opinions were still resolutely negative.

On other questions, the government’s NHS plans were supported by 25% and opposed by 39%, with a chunky 36% saying don’t know. Asked how well they understood the government’s NHS policy 43% said they understood it well (37% fairly well, 6% very well), 48% either not very well (39%) or not at all (9%) – which probably explains the very high don’t know figure in the first question.

On education there was a pretty evenly divided response to Free Schools – 33% said they supported them, 35% said they opposed them. The figures were pretty much the same when we asked if people would be interested in a Free School in their local area 32% said they’d like to see one locally, 33% would not. Of those who said they’d like to see one in their area, about a fifth said they would be interesting in helping set it up.

Questions like this, incidentally, are the sort of thing that provoke headlines saying “only 6% would involve themselves in big society” etc, etc. These rather miss the point – if 6% of the population were happy to actively volunteer to help their local schools it would be more than enough (hell, it would likely be beyond Michael Gove’s wildest dreams). The problem is whether people would actually volunteer, rather than telling a pollster they would, which can be an entirely different matter. One requires you to tick a button on a screen, the other requires you to give up lots of your spare time.

Going back to the poll, YouGov also repeated some questions on Tony Blair and the war in Iraq, which were first asked in January last year. Opinions were pretty much the same – 51% think Tony Blair lied over Iraq, 30% think he did not. 24% of people think that Blair knowingly misled Parliament and should be tried for war crimes.

201 Responses to “More from the YouGov/Sunday Times poll”

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  1. ComRes, I think, had Darling/Brown on 30-1% in March. Still some way to go for reds to regain fiscal credibility. 27% is a good starting point though.

  2. 36% don’t knows on the NHS (and knocking on 40% opposed). 25% support.

    If half those don’t knows form a negative opinion it could still have that big poll effect, just take a long time to get there.

  3. Given that the strongest predictor of how well a child does at school is home background (and that’s throughout the western world) of course free schools will ‘work’; committed parents putting committed children into a school will obviously outperform other schools with fewer committed parents.

    This is how Grammar Schools work; take those destined to succeed and compare against non like schools (go on, compare your grammar school result against the top set of the local real comprehensive – not the sink comprehensive – and you will find the results match. Why? Committed middle class parents also make up top set parents.).

    It’s the tail end of this which matters; the kids left in the other sink schools. That’s why Free schools stink

  4. Even on Johnson’s appointment there was a fair amount of eye-rolling (including from me) that he visibly wasn’t up to job and that blokishness can only take you so far – not to mention the fact that the working class don’t like it. The fact that Balls has instantly got better ratings (from Lib Dems and also Labour shifting from DK) shows Johnson wasn’t in the right job – the last poll was just after his gaff over NI rates. Having said that most Press and politicians don’t seem to know what they are from April either as previously discussed.

    Balls does need to improve his act though. His manner needs to be less aggressive and he has to get rid of that smirk (they’re obviously both side-effects of him being basically painfully shy and over-compensating). He also wants to do something about his eyes – I suspect he wears contacts which don’t agree with him, but glasses were verboten under New Labour.

    More seriously he and Labour need to get a coherent line on the deficit. ‘Deficit denial’ has always been a silly attitude because most people think “you can’t deny it – it’s there”. Equally a ‘say nothing and let the dissatisfied public carry you to victory’ attitude won’t work, no matter how many eloquent arguments and electoral statistics Rob Sheffield supports it with. Voters will judge your competence on the policies you put forward now. Of course the possibility of an early election also means that Labour has to get its house in order now.

    If I were Labour, I would go for ‘deficit management’ – mixed and flexible programme of efficiencies, cuts, better targeting, higher taxes, better tax and revenue collection and growth.

  5. Roger

    “If I were Labour, I would go for ‘deficit management’ – mixed and flexible programme of efficiencies, cuts, better targeting, higher taxes, better tax and revenue collection and growth.”

    All of that but get “growth” up front and make it your (oft-)stated priority.

  6. @ Roger Mexico

    Below, I am re-posting a ‘chat’ that Anthony & I had on an earlier thread, in case you didn’t see it.

    …Anthony has – at the end of his [YouGov article] analysis – shown exactly why Ed M was now able to give Ed Balls the role as opposition Chancellor:

    “In addition, 52% of people now think the Government is cutting too quickly and risk putting the country back into recession, with only 30% thinking they are right way of getting the economy.

    This suggests opinion has shifted against the cuts since we asked the same question in October when 38% thought the cuts were right and 46% thought they were too quick and risked a second recession.”

    The voters have moved towards Ed B’s position in sufficient numbers to make his economic narrative an asset for Labour, rather than the potential liability it seemed to be a few months ago.

    [No, they’ve moved toward Ed Miliband and Labour’s position that the cuts are necessary, but the way the government are doing them is too large or too quick. Ed Balls’ position (or at least, the way his position was percieved by the commentariat during the leadership election, I have no doubt it has nuances and that some compromise will have been necessary as part of his appointment as Shadow CotE) was that the cuts were not necessary at all. We know the public do not agree with this – AW]

    @ Anthony

    Thank you for the response, & acknowledging that the public perception is not necessarily Ed B’s position which was laid out in his Bloomberg speech last August. The relevant paragraphs being:

    “Of course we need to deal with the deficit and there is no doubt that we must cut waste where it is found. There is no dispute about that.

    “We do need a credible and medium-term plan to reduce the deficit and to reduce our level of national debt – a pre-announced plan for reducing the deficit based on a careful balance between employment, spending and taxation – but only once growth is fully secured and over a markedly longer period than the government is currently planning.”

    IMO, being shadow chancellor will allow Ed B to more clearly articulate his position; & his position on the economy is aligned with the opinion of the majority per YG’s polling.

  7. Why can’t politicians just be honest when it comes to the economy and say, ‘Look it goes up and down, when it goes up enjoy it, when it comes down, we’ll do our best to protect you from its worse effects, but thats about all’

    So Osborne, Balls, whoever, its, ‘Events dear boy events’

  8. Amber

    I did see it and I agree with what both Anthony and you said. However I think that Balls and Labour still have to convince the electorate that their way is the more sensible one to deal with the deficit and that this is crucial.


    I was in any case about to cut and paste your remark Ed Balls’ position […] was that the cuts were not necessary at all. We know the public do not agree with this.

    To monitor this are we going to have a ‘cuts un/necessary’ question added to the regular economic ones? Pretty please.

  9. Thought NickP was getting carried away with his “Watergate” comparison, but alot of people must be wondering about the “Ray Chapman tapes”, what they contain, and whether they will see the light of day.

    Not good if there is a link, however tenuous, to the hacking of the messages of two previous prime ministers and a chancellor of the exchequer.

  10. One could only conclude whether the ‘Big Society# headline would be justified or not if one had asked a question about ‘how many days / nights per week do you give to voluntary work per week’ and hope that people told the truth. The problem of definition also raises its head. Is spending three nights a week helping in a model railway club to build a layout ‘the big society’ or does it just shew you up as not having a very successful marriage? In fact many genuine volunteers could be motivated by the last consideration as well of course as those hoping to meet a partner and not to forget the bereaved (and of course also the perverts in the case of children’s work).

    You gather I think that polls are on firmer ground with VI than social stuff.

  11. i see that every time they mention phone hacking they also mention that the issue cost coulson his job

    really not fair but this is going to link fleet street slease with no 10

    a whole new twist on “all in this together

  12. Richard in Norway

    The link is there, it doesn’t have to be “made up”.

    Why tap into Brown’s, or Prescott’s, voicemail? Political capital. Who stood to gain?

    Where did Coulson go to work after resigning from NoW…where Labour politicians were listened into and smeared?

    It’s a link and a definite, hard, political one.

  13. My understanding of the latest poll is not that voters cease to see the need for deficit reduction but that they do not agree with the VAT increase (67%). The big majority for reducing the price of petrol 75% (like asking if voters agree with happiness) shews that voters are simply unwilling to face up to the programme when it affects them.

    The astonishing % of Labour voters who think that the 50% rate for 150K plussers should be brought down eventually may be explained by the long winded question that failed to repeat the 150k bit in the choices. however this is an online poll so voters had the opportunity to re-read so I remain – astonished!.

  14. Jack

    I wholly agree with your post on schools.

    As a matter of interest, the “home background” can be refined further.

    In Scotland (and there is no reason to think Scots are different from other parts of the developed world), the best single predictor of the child’s academic success is the level of education attained by the mother.

  15. OldN,

    That explains why Keir is a lengend :)

  16. Ian Rankin states in his books that Edinburgh has the widest gap between rich and poor in the Western World.

  17. Charlotte Harris in the Independent:

    “These arguments only wash if you think it doesn’t matter that there might be an unhealthily close relationship between No 10, News International and the Met. Or that there was a near-systemic culture of questionable practices. Or that the police failed to inform a large number of apparent victims that their phones may have been hacked. Or that senior politicians were having their private conversations listened to. Or that the PM is a frequent guest of Rebekah Wade, Andy Coulson’s former boss at the NoW, when she and her bosses were trying to secure a major media deal as well as facing an investigation by the DPP’s office. ”

    Overtly political and not just Fleet Street sleaze at all.

  18. Interesting that Chris Huhne has complained about the implausibility of the “one rogue reporter” defence and is calling for a fresh police inquiry today.

    Would seem to put him at odds with Clegg who said this morning that it was “quite right” that DC gave Coulson a second chance in May and chose him to be be his spokesperson.

    A first sign since establishment of coalition of Huhne establishing a separate identity and ready to step in should Clegg fall?

    In fact if you think about it DC gave Coulson a third chance. The second chance was appointing him first of all back in 2007. He had the chance to break with Coulson when he began PM but in choosing to re-appoint him gave him what was in effect a third chance.

  19. @ Nick P

    If (& it’s a big if, at the moment) it’s proven that senior politicians had their phones hacked whilst Andy Coulson was editor of NOW, this story could become Britain’s equivalent of Watergate.

    It’s a scarey thought that a government communication director could have illegally obtained knowledge about the private lives of rival politicians &/or those within the coalition Parties he has been employed to serve.

  20. @Woodsman – “… choosing to re-appoint him”

    Especially as Coulson was reported to have been most reluctant to take the high profile job in No 10.

    One or two commentators have pointed out, nothing more, that Cameron’s seizing of a tactical advantage over the new Brown administration coincided with Coulson’s arrival. A coincidence for sure, but there will be nagging doubts: among the wider public perhaps not, but in the febrile atmosphere of Westminster paranoia?

  21. The thing is that Brown was NOT a Murdoch insider. Blair was and Cameron is.

    So that makes Brown much maligned, almost by definition.

    Can Labour win a general election without cosying up to News International?

    That would be good…

  22. Simon Hughes has been worryingly quiet on the phone hacking scandal.

    Prescott is absolutely right about the police’s role in this.

    Don’t know what the long term effect of this will be though, maybe public oopinion will just polarise.

  23. Chris Huhne now appears to be speaking out though.

  24. @Billy Bob,

    A cynic might also point out that Cameron’s seizing of the tactical advantage over a new Brown administration coincided with a new Brown administration….

    It seems to be being half-suggested that Cameron and the Tory party were already employing Coulson whilst he was editor of the NotW. That’s something of a distortion I think.

    I suppose if the Mirror did any phone hacking that must mean that Labour are implicated as well?

  25. It really depends if the Mirror hacked into senior Tory phones and whether the editor now works until recently for Milliband.

  26. I wonder whether NoW hacked into any Tory phones?

    If not…why not?

    If so…question mark over how Coulson got the job (hold over Cameron?) and partiality over Government with Murdoch (same argument).

  27. I thought there was something about Boris Johnson’s phone?

  28. I can understand why the Tories (& Murdoch) will want to spread Tappergate further than NI & NotW, it’ll be interesting to see if they do…..

  29. @ Neil A

    Boris was suggested as somebody who’s phone may have been hacked. He ‘pooh poohed’ the entire hacking story back in September 2009. He’ll not come out of this looking like the sharpest tool in the box, if his assessment of the situation turns out to be entirely wrong.

    And given that the Met are (theoretically at least) within Boris’s remit as Mayor, might it not be in his interest to play down a scandal that could be brewing regarding the Met?

    The Met do appear to have been rather lax about following up the comissioning names that were recorded in the PI’s notes.

    This story does seem to be finding its way into the public’s consciousness & it will not go away until we are convinced that there will be no new revelations.

  30. It’s important not to get too carried away about the political aspects of the Coulson story. The Murdoch Press has always been happy to go after politicians of any stripe when there was a juicy story involved. The phone hacking that has been admitted happened under Labour Home Secretaries and a Labour Mayor in nominal control of the Met. As I commented a couple of threads back, conspiracies of common interest between like-minded people are how these things work, rather than deliberate plotting

    It’s possible if the Royals weren’t involved nothing would have come out. I suppose it’s a good argument for the Head of State being a separate power centre, even if a weak one. pressure to not prosecute might have been heavier if only politicians were victims.

    Of course we don’t know what has been kept back for the appropriate moment or to hold over certain powerful heads. Remember how the information against Hughes and Oaten was released when they stood for the Lib Dem leadership – though I think in both cases the News of the World had the info for over a year. Releasing a scandal now and again may also be useful ‘pour encourager les autres’.

    Speaking of Hughes, he was one of the people hacked included in the original court case. It may be that he’s keeping quiet because of legal reasons or because he’s going after damages. Huhne speaking out is perhaps more significant, he’s been keeping his head down so far in government. Of course there’s now a sort of license from Clegg to be more open, but this may also signal more pressure on Clegg with how the coalition operates. Huhne has always been the one to watch with regard to any possible break-up and is the most likely post-Clegg leader if it happens. So he won’t wield the knife, but he’ll make it clear what side he’s on. Huhne also has had his own issues with the NoW of course.

  31. Roger Mexico –

    Don’t worry, even if it’s not in the regular trackers I’ll be repeating the necessary/unecessary when space allows.

  32. It seems that the Met didn’t contact everyone who’s name was on the list. It doesn’t necessarily follow that they didn’t “follow up” the names.

    There are a limited range of actions that they could take to establish if any actual or attempted hacking took place. One of those would be to contact everyone on the list and ask them “did any sensitive information about you ever appear in the tabloid press that might have been referred to in a voicemail message?”.

    Without knowing the details of what they found, it’s hard to judge the investigating officers. It could be, for example, that they obtained a year’s worth of Mulcaire’s telephone records and looked for voicemail calls to numbers of people on the list, and then only contacted those whose phones were called. There may even have been a formal “Victim Approach Protocol” setting out the circumstances under which a possible victim would be approached, what would be said to them etc.

    Or it could be that it was a really long list and they couldn’t be bothered, preferring to spend their afternoons playing golf.

    “Oh blimey, there’s some big names on that list, I don’t want to get my chums into trouble so I’ll ignore those” is only one of many possible explanations. And not particularly the most likely.

    As usual, the police are being judged by a self-appointed jury, based on speculation about (and, to a large degree, ignorance of) the evidence in the case. However, I think it’s certainly reached the point where a review should be conducted by a different force, under the auspices of the IPCC (if that hasn’t already been instigated).

    I think the ultimate problem may be that it is very difficult to prove that any given phone was or wasn’t “hacked” without either a confession, or a record of what was in the message being found (either a recording, a transcript, or a summary in another document held by the paper or Mulcaire). Even if you have a name on a list, and a call to that voicemail from Mulcaire’s phone, and a subsequent expose on that individual in the papers, it’s not certain proof by any means.

  33. @ Amber Star

    “He’ll not come out of this looking like the sharpest tool in the box, if his assessment of the situation turns out to be entirely wrong.”

    Um, does this actually change the previous perception of Boris Johnson?

  34. @ SoCaL

    :-) LOL :-)

  35. so cal

    those were my thoughts also

    i think that boris is the perfect exsample of the public prefering a political boss that is not smarter than them

  36. Rciahrd,

    The starting gun has been fired on the Irish Election. The Green Party have just walked out of government.

  37. I don’t quite get what “big society” is or, of the purported 6% who would volunteer for it, what people are volunteering for when they say they’d be willing to volunteer for “Big Society.” It kind of reminds me of how back in high school, this girl founded this community service program (in reality a move to help get her into college). Everyone volunteered for it and she was featured in national news. Of course, no one actually knew what her program did (something with recycling) or if it was even effective (people signed up because they received credit for it). “Big Society” is supposed to be some sort of Americanization of Britain yet from what I read of it, it doesn’t sound at all a reflection of how American society operates.

    I think the appointment of Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor helps Labour btw if Balls and Osbourne are even on the issues of economic trust and even on the issue of who would make a better Chancellor. “Red Ed” hurts Labour only if people don’t trust Miliband on the economy. If Balls helps give a level of credibility to Miliband, the “Red Ed” label becomes nothing more than a funny nickname.

  38. @ Neil A

    If you have time, it would be interesting to have your explanation of the differing standards of evidence required in civil v criminal cases.

    I think that’s the crux of the matter, given the huge pay-offs by News International in civil cases without there being charges brought based on the evidence used by the lawyers in those civil actions.

    Also, that the NOW hacked a senior police officer’s phone & now employ him, well that looks rather odd, does it not?

  39. The last three ROI polls have put

    Fine Gael [right of centre] on 30%, 34%, 35%

    Labour PArty [centre] 23% , 25%, 21%

    Fianna Fáil [populist] 17%, 17%, 14%

    Sinn Féin [hard left] 15%, 14%, 14%

    The recent resignation of COwen should see Fianna Fáil claw some of that back from Sinn Féin but it wont be enough to avoid be removed from power..

  40. @ Amber Star


    Like I said to Old Nat the other night, I try. :)

    Btw, a few threads ago last week, you were arguing with a Lib Dem poster about the actual switches in voting patterns in 1997. You had argued that Labour’s victory came mostly as a result of straight up former Tory voters switching to vote for Labour, not a massive surge in tactical voting from Lib Dems to vote for Labour.

    I actually found this comprehensive research paper that actually might prove your point, giving shares of changes in vote percentages in each constituency.

    h ttp://

  41. @Neil A – This article points to inconsistencies in the Met approach (in their defence they say they were concentrating resources on other threats):

    h ttp://

    Sorry I can’t find a link, but at one point a journalist went to tthe trouble of contacting the major phone companies direct, to get evidence on the number of accounts that had been tampered with.

  42. Amber – I believe the different burdens of proof are that in civil cases it is a balance of probabilities (it is more likely that X did this or that X didn’t?), and that criminal cases it is beyond reasonably doubt (has it been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that X did this?)

  43. SocCal & Amber – for the 1997 question you need to look at the 1997 British Election Study. That will have cross breaks of how people said they voted in 1992 and how they voted in 1997.

    Data for past BES stuff is all here:

  44. @ Anthony

    Thank you for both replies; they are much appreciated – especially the link to past vote comparisons. That will keep me occupied for the rest of the day. 8-)

  45. @Roger Mexico – “If I were Labour, I would go for ‘deficit management”

    I would also look to contrast this with talk of a ‘social deficit’. brings the choices into juxtaposition and helps people realse that we are trading social justice for financial stability, with risks on either side if we don’t get the balance right. Against a potential backdrop of rising unemployment, higher crime, homelessness, increased NHS waiting lists, income inequality etc it’s a useful way of summarising a narrative in two words that might chime with people’s experience.

    On Coulson – yes, Huhne’s intervention is extremely important. I guess he’s read today’s Observer and is preparing for the carnage that is about to hit News International. Lib Dems will be more than happy to let Cameron’s Tories go down with Murdoch’s reputation.

    The Observer has reported the apparently widely known fact that a former very senior NOTW editorial staff mamber kept copious tape recordings of conversations he had with the editorial team and journalists. Although he died recently they report his tapes are believed to be in the possession of solicitors acting for a number of clients.

    Other NOTW staff have also reported to have kept recordings and emails as protection in case they found themselves on the wrong side of the law and the article implies that there is a race by the NOTW investigation to find this material.

    The critical point is that many of these reported tapes date back to pre Coulson days – when Rebekah Brookes was editor. She is now head of News International. If these tapes surface, as most insiders believe they will, it may well be that her career is over and the damage to the Murdoch empire could be massive.

    The Mulcaire court case has already established that if a direct line of command is established between a phone hacker and a journalist, both will go to prison. If the chain of command extends to sub editors and editors they too will be able to write first hand accounts of how soft the prison service is with convicts.

  46. @Anthony – got a post in moderation. I’m not sure why, but if I’ve been a naughty boy let me know and I’ll do my best to behave.

  47. Chris Huhne – “Why would the royal correspondent be interested in hacking the voicemails of Simon Hughes, my colleague as a Liberal Democrat MP, for example?”

    Now I’ve read Huhne’s comments in more detail, his intervention seems even more significant – carefully thought through and well designed. Somewhat in contrast to Clegg’s clumsy attempts to hold some kind of coalition line.

  48. Yes, Alec

    I think it is the political phone taps that might be dynamite. As this gathers Murdoch’s opponents will be less afraid of the smear retaliations.

    I think this could break that dam holding back the tide of revelations. Remember how the truth about Maxwell was not spoken till he died?

    Surely Coulson’d defence of one rogue journalist is already perjury?

  49. amber

    i voted labour in 97, i was not going to be responsible for another conservative win, especially when they had all those blue water folk

    anecdotal i know but still,

  50. @Roger mexico

    “a ‘say nothing and let the dissatisfied public carry you to victory’ attitude won’t work, no matter how many eloquent arguments and electoral statistics Rob Sheffield supports it with.”

    What I actually said was :

    ‘…Don’t underestimate that this coming election will likely be about

    ‘the economy stupid…but also all those other stupid things that they have done as well’

    and in the context of the *first election* since 1979 when the centre left has not been divided between two separate main parties…’

    Labour can though take their time (per 12 months) to develop a winning critique and alternative on the economy: this is the period when the Conservative-led government is doing all the heavy lifting of turning people away from them and towards Labour all by themselves.

    Though I expect EdB wants to get cracking ASAP


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